May 24, 2018
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Activist probes inmate death

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

WARREN, Maine — The recent death of an inmate at Maine State Prison is causing consternation among some Maine prison reform activists.

Victor Valdez, 52, died of medical causes in the hospital, Department of Corrections Assistant Commissioner Denise Lord said Thursday. The death is not under investigation, she added.

“Because medical information is confidential, I can’t talk about it,” Lord said.

But Judy Garvey of Blue Hill thinks that there may be more to Valdez’s death than is being shared by prison officials. She is a member of the Maine Coalition Against the Abuse of Solitary Confinement, which has been gathering information about the prison through inmate letters.

One of those letters arrived on Nov. 23 and included a description of prisoner treatment that Garvey and others have found disturbing in light of Valdez’s death, which she said happened on Nov. 27.

“On 11-19-09 an inmate who is very sick with kidney failure was abused and taken to solitary confinement,” wrote the inmate, whom she did not name. “He is elderly. His dialysis tubes were ripped out and he bled all over the place. The man’s name is Victor Valdez. He needs someone to come to the prison ASAP to check his injuries out before he heals or dies like an inmate a few months ago.”

Inmate Sheldon Weinstein died on April 23 of blunt force injuries evidently received at the hands of other inmates. So far, Weinstein’s homicide has led to the firing of one prison guard and the demotion of another after an internal investigation by the Department of Corrections.

“It’s horrific to hear about any death that happened as a result of something that could have been averted, like possible abuse from people in positions of power,” Garvey said, referring to both deaths. “We don’t want things like this going on in Maine. We’re not a third-world country. We have to keep things out in the light.”

She and other prison reform activists this week have written to Gov. John Baldacci to ask for details of what happened to Valdez.

But Lord, who responded to Garvey on Thursday in a brief e-mail, said she could not share those details.

“The concerns shared with me … have been looked into and found to be without merit,” Lord wrote in the e-mail. “We take all allegations of abuse seriously.”

Lord told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday, “It really isn’t public information, other than that we looked into it and took the appropriate level of action.”

Garvey, however, would like for such allegations of inmate abuse to be investigated by an “outside source.”

“Ninety percent of the people in Maine State Prison will be released back into their communities. It’s in our best interest that they’re treated humanely,” she said. “My belief is that even if people have committed a crime, they are human beings and deserve to be treated with dignity.”

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